Wednesday, September 12, 2007
From the Los Angeles Times…
A Hart-felt commitment to racial peace
The Newhall high school where ethnic tensions erupted last year erects a monument to cultural diversity.
By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Determined that their school not be branded as racially intolerant, students and faculty at Newhall’s Hart High School dedicated a symbolic “peace pole” Tuesday aimed at affirming their respect for cultural diversity and their commitment to ethnic harmony.
The dedication of the 10-foot copper monument comes more than a year after a racially charged clash among students on the north Los Angeles County campus. Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear were called out to break up the fracas, arresting four teens.
Today, students acknowledge there are still problems at the school, but say there have been significant strides in race relations, creating a more positive environment.
“Our pole is a new way to express diversity in our community,” Jamie Long, a senior and a member of Hart’s Associated Student Body, told students, faculty and visitors gathered Tuesday in Hart’s central courtyard for the dedication. “It symbolizes our commitment to nonviolence on our campus.”
The William S. Hart Union School District has experienced several race-related problems in recent years. In February 2006, at least half a dozen students at Golden Valley High School were arrested following racial clashes. And in 2005, the parents of four African American students at Valencia High School sued the school district, alleging it failed to adequately address continued racial abuse and discrimination against their children. The plaintiffs received a $300,000 settlement.
Hart senior Tessa Sicotte-Kelly remembers the friction that permeated the 2,500-student campus in the months leading up to the April 2006 brawl. Whites, blacks and Latinos segregated themselves. Racial slurs were not uncommon.
“People were so separated,” recalled Sicotte-Kelly, 17. “It was insanely cliquey. And a lot of that was about race.”
While divisions still exist, Sicotte-Kelly said “there’s definitely less tension.” She and many other students who attended Tuesday’s ceremony wore a black T-shirt that read,
“No Haters Here.”
School district officials said Golden Valley and Valencia High have made strides toward embracing a culture of inclusion. But they said at Hart -- the Santa Clarita Valley’s most ethnically diverse school with a student population that is 57% white, 31% Latino, 6% Asian and 3% black -- that commitment has been taken a step further. The school has earned recognition from the county as a model for human relations.
Students have formed a group called Change of Hart where members from different racial backgrounds can talk through differences and devise solutions to problems. The group also brings in speakers on diversity and racial tolerance.
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